North Carolina’s shocking history of sterilization

North Carolina’s shocking history of sterilization

Forced sterilization was the law in 32 U.S. states, and actually inspired the Nazis. We’re just learning the truth

North Carolina's shocking history of sterilization(Credit: Provided by Willis Lynch)
Adapted from “For the Public Good” from The New New South

People generally have two reactions when they hear about American eugenics programs for the first time: the first is shock, and the second is distancing. How could those people have done that to them?

Most have heard of the program in Nazi Germany, in which more than 400,000 people considered unworthy of life — those with hereditary illnesses, but also the dissident, the idle, the homosexual, and the weak — were targeted for forced sterilization beginning in the 1930s. Few realize that the some of the inspiration for Germany’s eugenics program, and even the language for the Nuremberg racial hygiene laws, which among other restrictions banned sexual intercourse between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, came from eugenicists who had been practicing for years in the United States. Some 60,000 American citizens were sterilized, often under coercion or without consent.

Returning from my first visit with Willis Lynch, I met my in-laws, in town from Northern Virginia, for dinner in Durham, N.C. Lynch was sterilized at age 14 on the recommendation of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board, which determined that he was unfit to father children. When I told them about all he had been through, they were outraged. They had never heard of forced sterilizations taking place in the United States, but blamed their ignorance on where they grew up. “I’m from the North,” said my mother-in-law, who had assumed that Lynch, now 80, is black (he is white). “We didn’t have things like that there.”

I went home and looked it up. Pennsylvania, her home state, never passed a eugenics law, but managed to sterilize 270 people anyway, and also to perform the first known eugenics-motivated castration, in 1889. The first state to enact a eugenics-based sterilization law was Indiana, in 1907; it was followed two years later by Washington and California. Eventually 32 states would pass such legislation. Internationally, the list of countries with a history of forced sterilization includes Canada, Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, Denmark, Japan, Iceland, India, Finland, Estonia, China, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uzbekistan.

Though North Carolina did not sterilize the greatest number of people (that distinction belongs to California, where 20,000 were sterilized), the state’s Eugenics Board was notorious for its aggressiveness. While many states confined their sterilization programs to institutions, North Carolina allowed social workers to make recommendations based on observations of “unwholesome” home environments or poor school performance. The state’s program was also one of the longest lasting, increasing its number of sterilizations while others were winding down. Between 1929 and 1974, more than 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized. Like Willis Lynch, many of the victims were children, and consent was provided by relatives or guardians who feared the loss of welfare benefits or other consequences if they refused.

Over more than a decade, sterilization victims waited for North Carolina to make things right. Lynch, for his part, testified at state hearings, gave interviews to newspapers and magazines, and talked regularly by phone with other victims. For years, not much materialized: an apology from Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, expressions of regret and sympathy from his successor, Beverly Perdue, also a Democrat.

Then in 2012, something remarkable happened: A Perdue-appointed task force that had been listening to testimonies from Lynch and others like him for almost two years recommended a package of compensation for the victims of eugenics, and the state’s Republican-led and oft-divided House of Representatives supported the measure in a bipartisan effort. The plan included equal monetary payments to victims, access to mental health resources, and a program of public recognition and education that would ensure that no one would ever forget what happened to them. It began to look like North Carolina would be the first in the nation to address the legacy of eugenics, and victims imagined what they might do with the restitution: pay bills, fix up their homes, visit distant relatives.

The members of the task force were united in their recommendation, but the journey to a proposal that satisfied the victims had not been easy. They’d listened to many hours of painful testimony from sterilized men and women and their families, and had reviewed thousands of pages of supporting documents: medical records, reports from the Eugenics Board, propaganda in favor of eugenics-based sterilization. They’d looked at the faulty science behind eugenics, as well as North Carolina’s unequal targeting of poor, vulnerable, and minority citizens. They’d considered actuarial data to estimate the number of living victims, and calculated the potential total cost of compensation. Though they acknowledged that no amount of money can pay for the harm done by compulsory sterilization, they did, in fact, put a number on the line: $50,000 for each living victim, $50 million total.

But some wondered: Can you put a price on reproductive ability? And is it appropriate, in a time of austerity, to make such large monetary payments, especially when it won’t right the wrongs? Should today’s taxpayers be responsible for something that happened decades ago? Though the effort to include the task force’s recommendations in the House budget had been bipartisan, the measure faced more dissent from the G.O.P.-controlled Senate: The state can’t afford to pay for something that won’t fix any problems, and it was a long time ago, anyway. It wasn’t us.

It is human nature to distance oneself from what now seems cruel, violent, reprehensible. We tell ourselves that we would not have done that, that our country is better than that now. But that same distance — I am not like that, I am better — is what motivated the first eugenicists and their followers.

Like Willis Lynch, Francis Galton was born into a family of seven children, though more than 90 years earlier and thousands of miles away. The circumstances of his early childhood in England were quite different: His father was a wealthy banker, his mother the daughter of physician Erasmus Darwin, making Francis Galton a cousin to the father of the theory of evolution. The Galton family also included a number of prominent gunsmiths, iron mongers, athletes, and Quakers.

Under the tutelage of a doting older sister, Galton showed exceptional intellectual promise even before he was school-aged. He knew his capital letters by 12 months, could read at 2-and-a-half, and could sign his own name by 3. The day before he turned 5, Galton boasted in a letter to his sister: “I am four years old and can read any English book. I can say all the Latin Substantives and Adjectives and active verbs besides 52 lines of Latin poetry. I can cast up any sum in addition and multiply by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10. I can also say the pence table. I read French a little and I know the Clock.” When he finally entered school, he was surprised and disappointed that his classmates did not share his enthusiasm or facility for reciting the “Iliad” or Walter Scott’s “Marmion.” He was sent to a French boarding school at age 8, and at 16, left secondary school to study medicine (a pursuit he later abandoned).

As an adult, Galton had a varied and peripatetic career. He traveled to Africa for anthropological work, discovered the anticyclone, created the first weather map, pioneered the first system of fingerprinting, and developed a “Beauty-map” of the British Isles that compared the relative attractiveness of women. (London had the most beautiful women, according to his research, Aberdeen the ugliest.) He is best known, however, as the father of modern eugenics, an area of study partially inspired by cousin Charles Darwin’s work. Less than a month after the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” Galton wrote, in an admiring letter to his cousin: “I have laid it down in the full enjoyment of a feeling that one rarely experiences after boyish days, of having been initiated into an entirely new province of knowledge, which, nevertheless, connects itself with other things in a thousand ways.” Galton was interested in the potential implications of Darwin’s work on heredity and evolution: Could these principles be used, through selective breeding, to enhance the human gene pool? Likely influenced by the achievements of his own illustrious family, Galton believed that talent and ability are transferred genetically rather than by environment. To Galton’s mind, his particular aptitude for geography, language, and the sciences came not so much from his education and privilege as from his eminent forebears.

Improving human societies through selective breeding was not a new idea, even in the 1800s. In ancient Greece, deformed babies were killed at birth, unwanted ones abandoned to the elements. Spartan elders inspected every newborn for potential contribution to the state — weak babies were dropped into a chasm — and the strongest men and women were encouraged to procreate (including outside of marriage). In the “Republic,” Plato argued that “the best of either sex should be united with the best as often as possible, and the inferior with the inferior as seldom as possible.” The goal was the collective good. If only the strongest and smartest reproduced, then their offspring would, over time, benefit everyone through their industry, bravery, creativity, and strength.

But the term eugenics was not coined until 1883, when Galton published his fifth book, “Inquiries into Human Faculty and Development.” In it, he combined the Greek word eu, meaning good, with the suffix -genes, meaning born, and defined eugenics as “the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations.” He identified both positive eugenics (encouraging the breeding of the best) as well as negative eugenics (discouraging and even preventing the unfit from procreation), though he found the former more practical and socially palatable. Arguing that religion and custom had always strongly influenced breeding and marriage, Galton proposed that eugenics, with its ultimate goal of improving human societies, could be introduced to the general public as a new and compelling religion.

With his amateur background in anthropology, Galton classified humans along a line of “Mediocrity,” or average talents. Those above average, especially the most talented, should be encouraged to procreate within their classes, early and often. Those below average, especially the lowest-ranking, should be encouraged to abstain or, at the very least, refrain from tainting the bloodlines of their superiors. He had only a few vague suggestions about how this could be accomplished: intelligent and well-born women should be encouraged to marry at 21 or 22, promising couples provided with inexpensive housing, social inferiors encouraged to regard celibacy as noble self-sacrifice, and habitual criminals segregated, monitored, and denied the opportunity to produce offspring. “What nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly,” he asserted. His vision was Utopian; the English race, after a few generations, would be “less foolish, less excitable, and politically more provident.” Men of special ability, like himself and his cousin, would be less rare, and would be able to contribute more than their fair share to the general population.

Galton soon realized a problem with positive eugenics: Eminence generally appeared later in life, often after the opportunity to marry and produce children. To address this problem, he established London’s Anthropometric Laboratory, the world’s first mental testing center, which sought not only to provide individuals with information about their own abilities, but also to serve as a collection of data for Galton and other scientists. These early tests, offered for three pence each to subjects ranging in age from 5 to 80, were unlike the written test Willis Lynch would take, years later, though their goal was the same: determination of ability or potential. Galton’s tests involved a variety of largely physical measurements: grip strength, head size, tactile sensitivity, breathing capacity, and visual and auditory acuity. His Anthropometric Laboratory collected data on more than 9,000 people, and although there is little evidence that they found much use in the information cards they received, his studies of the data eventually produced the statistical concepts of standard deviation and percentile ranking.

Negative eugenics — preventing those deemed unfit from reproducing — was considerably more challenging, at least as envisioned by Galton. It was not reasonable to expect most people to live a celibate life simply for the betterment of the gene pool, and monitoring ex-cons and other undesirables  was equally daunting. Though the British Eugenics Education Society, founded in 1907, campaigned for sterilization and marriage restrictions for mentally ill citizens, negative eugenics remained mostly the subject of political debate in Britain, and legislation enforcing sterilization of the unfit was never passed. Galton died in 1911 without seeing his “new religion” realized. Despite the genetic promise of his intellectual gifts, he also died childless.

**

The American eugenics movement is often characterized as a progressive folly for its faith in science and its big-government intrusiveness, but the truth is somewhat more complicated. The American Eugenics Society counted among its members some of the country’s most influential Progressive Era businesspeople, philanthropists, and activists, including J.P. Morgan Jr., Mary Duke Biddle, and Margaret Sanger, but the group of scientists and eugenicists who founded it also included well-known racists and anti-Semites. Early outreach efforts often included a mix of public health education and racist, anti-immigration messages.

The Fitter Families for Future Firesides competitions, sponsored by the Eugenics Society starting in 1924, provided one way of reaching out to rural white Americans. Held in state fairs across the country, the contests originated as Better Babies competitions and exhibitions that were meant to educate the public about infant health and mortality. Fitter Families contests, with the goals of collecting data on hereditary traits and spreading the message of eugenics to a wider population, invited entire families to submit to screenings for health, character, and intelligence. Those scoring highest received awards and medals bearing the inscription, “Yea, I have a goodly heritage” and had their photographs taken for the local papers. Following an examination, a family might listen to a Galtonesque lecture on the importance of mating the best with the best; browse an exhibit about comparative literacy rates of foreign, African-American, and native-born white Americans; or read about the social costs of incarcerating the mentally deficient.

At the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, a poster equipped with flashing lights informed fairgoers that “every 48 seconds someone is born in America who will never grow up beyond the mental age of 8” and that “crime costs America $100,000 every second.” The poster also claimed that  “few normal persons go to jail.” The message received by the “Fittest Families?” You are carrying the burden of the least fit, who should not be having so many children. In one way or another, you will pay for the children of undesirable parents: to feed and clothe them when their parents cannot, to care for them in institutions, and later, to imprison them.

Outside of state fairs and exhibitions, this fear of social dependency had already primed the culture for an embrace of negative eugenics. Large-scale asylums for the homeless and mentally ill, built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, raised fears that increasing numbers of handicapped citizens were a drain on public resources. The country’s first major immigration law, the Immigration Act of 1882, specifically prohibited entry by any “lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” American eugenicists believed, as Galton did, that people could be bred, like livestock, for desirable traits. Those with undesirable traits, which included everything from alcoholism to criminal recidivism to poverty, could be sterilized.

Indiana passed the first law allowing eugenics-based sterilization in 1907. Thirty-one other states would follow. After constitutional challenges, many employed language and structure from the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law written by Harry Laughlin, one of the founders of the American Eugenics Society. (Laughlin’s law later became the model for Nazi Germany’s Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and he would receive an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg for his support of “the science of racial cleansing.”)

Laughlin proposed a position of state eugenicist, whose function was “to protect the state against the procreation of persons socially inadequate from degenerate or defective physical, physiological or psychological inheritance.” He defined a socially inadequate person as one who, in comparison with “normal” persons, fails to maintain himself as a useful member of the state, and he set out the socially inadequate classes: the feeble-minded, the insane, the criminalistic, the epileptic, the inebriate, the diseased, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, the crippled, and the dependent (including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, the homeless, tramps and paupers”). Twenty years later, Virginia’s Sterilization Act, patterned after Laughlin’s, was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Buck v. Bell case, in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, about the family of 19-year-old Carrie Buck, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

North Carolina’s first sterilization law was recorded in 1919, but sterilizations did not begin until 1929, after the passage of Buck v. Bell, when one vasectomy, one castration, and one ovariectomy were performed (the state’s law was unusual in allowing castrations for “therapeutic treatment”). In 1933, the law was declared unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court on the basis of a deficient appeals process, and a second law was passed that year, ostensibly providing for due process for the individuals recommended for surgery. Sterilizations could be petitioned by the superintendent of public welfare, the heads of prisons or other institutions housing potential patients, or their next of kin or legal guardians. Despite the ability of individuals to appeal such recommendations, the statute was broad, allowing the Eugenics Board to overrule objections and authorize sterilizations in the best interest of the individual, for the public good, or if the individual was suspected to produce children with “a tendency to serious physical, mental or nervous disease or deficiency.”

By July 1935, the state had sterilized 223 men and women, most of them residents of state-run institutions. Though it would take another decade for public opinion to begin turning away from eugenics, “Eugenical Sterilization in North Carolina,” a report published by the state that year, envisioned a public that still needed convincing. The report argued, among other things, that sterilization was protection that benefitted both society and the sterilized individual:

There is no discovery vitally affecting the life, happiness and well being of the human race in the last quarter of a century about which intelligent people know so little, as modern sterilization. The operation is simple, it removes no organ or tissue of the body. It has no effect on the patient except to prevent parenthood. Under conservative laws, sanely and diplomatically administered, as they have been in California, these discoveries developed by the medical profession now offer to these classes the greatest relief possible and the greatest protection to the defenseless child of the future. It offers one, humane, practical protection against threatened race degeneracy.

Adapted from “For the Public Good” by Belle Boggs. Copyright 2013 The New New South. All rights reserved.

 

Belle Boggs is the author of the story collection “Mattaponi Queen,” which won the Bakeless Prize and the Library of Virginia Award.

Shutdown jeopardizes nutrition program for poor

FRIDAY, OCT 4, 2013 09:22 AM EDT

Shutdown jeopardizes nutrition program for poor

 

“What’s going to happen to my baby?” asked one mother, as she fed her son formula bought with a WIC voucher

BY 

 

Shutdown jeopardizes nutrition program for poor
(Credit: AP)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Jacob Quick is a fat and happy 4-month-old with a big and expensive appetite. Like millions of other poor women, Jacob’s mother relies on the federal Women, Infants and Children program to pay for infant formula — aid that is now jeopardized by the government shutdown.

Pennsylvania and other states say they can operate WIC at least through the end of October, easing fears among officials that it would run out of money within days. But advocates and others worry what will happen if the shutdown drags on beyond that.

“What’s going to happen to my baby?” asked Jacob’s mother, Cierra Schoeneberger, as she fed him a bottle of formula bought with her WIC voucher. “Am I going to have to feed him regular milk, or am I going to have to scrounge up the little bit of change I do have for formula or even baby food?”

WIC serves nearly 9 million mothers and young children, providing what advocates say is vital nutrition that poor families might otherwise be unable to afford.

Schoenberger, for example, said her son goes through about $40 worth of formula a week. “It’s like a car payment,” said the unemployed mother of three.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — better known as WIC — supplies low-income women with checks or debit cards that can be used for infant formula and cereal, fruits and vegetables, dairy items and other healthy food. WIC also provides breast-feeding support and nutrition classes. Poor women with children under 5 are eligible.

Just before the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had warned that states would run out of WIC cash after a “week or so.” Now the agency says WIC should be able to provide benefits through late October, with states using $100 million in federal contingency money released Wednesday and $280 million in unspent funds from the last budget year.

If the aid dries up, desperate moms will probably dilute their babies’ formula with water to make it last longer, or simply give them water or milk, said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, head of the National WIC Association, an advocacy group. Pediatricians say children under 1 shouldn’t drink cow’s milk because they can develop iron deficiency anemia.

“These mothers have trust and confidence in this program, and that trust and confidence has been shaken by Congress,” Greenaway said. “This is just unconscionable.”


Danyelle Brents, 22, a single mother of three, receives about $200 a month in vouchers for food and formula for her two children and baby. She is being hit doubly hard by the shutdown: She is a contract worker for the Federal Aviation Administration who catalogs records for aircraft certification, and is furloughed. Now, with her baby going through 10 cans of formula a month, she might lose key help with her grocery bill.

“That’s a lot of money, $15 a can,” she said. “Now that I’m out of work, WIC is how I support my family. … I’m scared at this point to go buy anything extra.”

Groups that fight hunger say they are also concerned about the confusion that needy mothers may be feeling. Though most WIC offices are open, many mothers mistakenly assumed that benefits were cut off.

Advocates are also worried that there will be a cumulative effect as other, smaller government feeding programs run out of money.

Adding to the uncertainty: While USDA has said that food stamps are guaranteed to continue through October, it is unclear what will happen after that.

In Pennsylvania, whose $208 million WIC program supports 250,000 women and children, all local WIC offices remain open and benefits are being dispensed as usual. The state Health Department said it has $25.5 million on hand to continue operating the program through October. Ohio said it has enough money to last through the second week of November.

“Ohio WIC is open for business!” proclaimed the headline on a state website.

Utah’s WIC program, though, immediately closed its doors Tuesday in the wake of the government shutdown, meaning that families who hadn’t already received their October vouchers were out of luck and new applications couldn’t be processed. The state got $2.5 million in USDA funding on Thursday, and WIC offices throughout the state planned to reopen by noon Friday.

Charitable groups were already filling the void. A Facebook group called “The People’s WIC — Utah” was launched hours after WIC offices closed, matching up families in need with those able to donate formula and other food.

In Layton, about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, a donation drive was planned for Saturday, with organizers asking for fresh fruits and vegetables, unopened baby formula and other necessities.

Food banks, meanwhile, are bracing for a surge in requests for help if WIC runs out of money.

Linda Zimmerman, executive director of Neighbors In Need, which runs 11 food banks in Massachusetts, said her organization already provides a lot of baby formula to its clients, most of whom get WIC aid as well.

“I think they’re truly nervous,” Zimmerman said. “We’re going to have to be doing a lot of work to make sure we can keep up with need for infant formula.”

In some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn’t get paid. Terry Bryce, director of Oklahoma’s WIC program, said WIC officials called and emailed grocers to assure them the program is still funded.

In New Jersey, Patricia Jones said she is worried about losing her WIC assistance.

“You’re affecting families that haven’t done anything to you,” said Jones, a 34-year-old mother of five. Because of the shutdown, she was turned away from the Social Security Administration office in Newark when she tried to get printouts of her children’s Social Security numbers to renew her welfare and WIC benefits.

___

Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J., Tim Talley in Oklahoma City, Bridget Murphy in Boston and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

Women’s lives don’t matter: The lesson of Marissa Alexander

TUESDAY, OCT 1, 2013

Women’s lives don’t matter: The lesson of Marissa Alexander

Laws fail to effectively stop violent men or protect us — that’s why we have to stand up for ourselves

BY 

Women's lives don't matter: The lesson of Marissa AlexanderMarissa Alexander (Credit: AP/Lincoln B. Alexander)

I am passionate about domestic violence, because I am a childhood survivor of domestic violence. I know all too well the ways in which men like my father, many of whom are themselves subjugated on the basis of race and class, use home spaces to assert dominance and control that they are not able to wield in the larger world.

I know intimately the terror of being under surveillance in one’s own home, of the prerogative that many men assert to control the comings and goings of their partners and children, often through the threat of violence and force. I have seen how difficult it is to stand your ground, when society is structured to give men economic and political control over private, domestic space. I know what the journey to survivor status looked like for my mother, and the way that my father’s violence demoralized him and ruined our relationship.

I think of the women survivors of gun violence that I personally know (and of the gun violence that snuffed out my father’s life at the age of 33, as he ironically tried to prevent another woman and her children from becoming the victims of domestic violence at the hands of another man).

I think of two high school classmates, a white girl named Mary Dee and a black girl named Jackie, both killed by fatal gunshots in murder-suicide scenarios involving their partners. I think of a class of first-year, college-age African-American women (18 and 19 year olds) that I taught several years ago, in which fully one-quarter of them admitted to having been in violent relationships in high school.

I think about all the stories that are almost too terrifying to remember and much too personal to confess.

Last week, a judge ordered a new trial for Marissa Alexander, a 33-year-old African-American woman from Florida currently serving a mandatory 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot into the wall to scare off her violent and abusive husband.

The new trial order comes just in time for our annual October commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it calls attention to startling new statistics released from the Violence Policy Center. In 2011, 1,707 women were murdered by men in single victim, single offender incidents. In 94 percent of these cases, these women were murdered by men they knew, and in 51 percent of the cases, they were murdered by guns. Sixty-one percent of these victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers. This means that intimate partner relationships constitute one of the most significant contexts through which women experience violence within our culture.

The disproportionate amounts of violence toward black women, who are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than their white female counterparts, were significant enough to warrant their own section of the report. In 2011, 470 black women were killed in single victim/single offender homicides. In cases where the relationship could be determined, 94 percent of black women knew their killers.

That number is entirely consistent across racial categories, because most violent crime is intraracial. On the one hand, that fact would seem to highlight the erroneous nature of designations like “black-on-black” crime, an incendiary term use to pathologize black people, while failing to acknowledge that among white people most crime is “white-on-white” crime.

Beyond the racially problematic dimensions of these kinds of demographic designations, there is the problem of gender. Black women are never the subject of either community or national discussions about “black-on-black” crime, which is largely focused on stopping the epidemic of homicidal violence among young black men. The invisibilization of black women from discourses about victims of violence makes it hard to actually see black women as victims.

In Marissa Alexander’s case, she inadvertently encountered her husband, a man against whom she had a restraining order, when she went to their home to retrieve her clothes unaware that he would be there. When he showed up, she felt threatened, went to her car to retrieve her gun, and then fired a shot into the wall in order to scare him away. Perhaps, this is why the judge also ruled that Alexander cannot use a “stand your ground” defense in her own trial.

The failure of the law to protect Marissa Alexander from her husband, who has admitted under oath to treating her violently, placed her in a difficult set of circumstances. There is no reason that she should be serving 20 years in prison for defending herself against a violent attacker. Yet, she was sentenced through a combination of overzealous prosecuting, by the same Florida district attorney, Angela Corey, who had to be convinced through national protests and marches to prosecute Trayvon Martin’s killer, and extremely punitive mandatory minimum sentencing laws that require some crimes in which a gun is used to carry a 20-year sentence.

Yet again, Angela Corey, and the Florida justice system in general, seem to have a hard time distinguishing victims from perpetrators.

In an ironic twist, Shellie Zimmerman, wife of acquitted killer George Zimmerman, has also had trouble finding any protection on the basis of Florida’s domestic violence laws.  In early September, Shellie Zimmerman called 911 to report that George Zimmerman was brandishing a gun at her and her father, as she attempted to remove her belongings from their home after filing for divorce. Mrs. Zimmerman never saw the actual weapon, but instead observed her husband using threatening body language, while gesturing toward his waistband. She concluded that he had a gun, and since he is legally entitled to carry his gun after being acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder, that seems like a credible conclusion on her part. To date, no charges have been filed against George Zimmerman, even though this is not his first run-in with the law on charges of domestic violence.

Fifty-one percent of female homicide victims are killed with guns. In a world where women’s lives matter, robust gun control would be non-negotiable. But in a world where women’s lives don’t matter, Marissa Alexander doesn’t have any ground on which to stand, nor a fighting chance at freedom.

Lest folks convince themselves that these kinds of occurrences are anomalous, I would encourage you to spend some time this month talking to the women you know about the violence they have experienced at the hands of men in their own lives.

Marissa Alexander stood up for herself. She did not retreat. She refused any longer to take her husband’s shit. Unaided by laws that can effectively stop violent men in their tracks, all women survivors reach a point where they refuse to take it anymore. Even as we work to transform our culture of misogynistic violence into a world safe for women to inhabit, we must stand with and for those women who are standing up for themselves.

Brittney CooperBrittney Cooper is a contributing writer at Salon. Follow her on Twitter at@professorcrunk.

LISTEN LIVE TO OUR LIVE INTERVIEW WITH Ms. Alexander hours following her sentencing.

5-12 aCTION aLERT

“Indescribably insane”: A public school system from hell ” – Salon

MONDAY, AUG 19, 2013 07:01 PM EDT

“Indescribably insane”: A public school system from hell

 

Pennsylvania’s right-wing governor drains public schools of basic funds — and the sickening details will shock you

BY 

 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett(Credit: Associated Press)

Want to see a public school system in its death throes? Look no further than Philadelphia. There, the school district is facing end times, with teachers, parents and students staring into the abyss created by a state intent on destroying public education.

On Thursday the city of Philadelphia announced that it would be borrowing $50 million to give the district, just so it can open schools as planned on Sept. 9, after Superintendent William Hite threatened to keep the doors closed without a cash infusion. The schools may open without counselors, administrative staff, noon aids, nurses, librarians or even pens and paper, but hey, kids will have a place to go and sit.

The $50 million fix is just the latest band-aid for a district that is beginning to resemble a rotting bike tube, covered in old patches applied to keep it functioning just a little while longer. At some point, the entire system fails.

Things have gotten so bad that at least one school has asked parents to chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which, if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The needs of children are secondary, however, to a right-wing governor in Tom Corbett who remains fixated on breaking the district in order to crush the teachers union and divert money to unproven experiments like vouchers and privately run charters. If the city’s children are left uneducated and impoverished among the smoldering wreckage of a broken school system, so be it.

To be clear, the schools are in crisis because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania refuses to fund them adequately. The state Constitution mandates that the Legislature “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education,” but that language appears to be considered some kind of sick joke at the state capital in Harrisburg.

It’s worth noting that the state itself runs the Philadelphia School District after a 2001 takeover. The state is also responsible for catastrophic budget cuts two years ago that crippled the district’s finances. And in a diabolical example of circular logic, the state argues that the red ink it imposed, and shoddy management it oversees, are proof that the district can’t manage its finances or its mission and therefore shouldn’t  get more money.

Make no mistake, on the aggregate the district does not perform well. Only slightly more than 60 percent of students graduate from high school, with less than 60 percent proficient in reading and math. But put that in the context where 80 percent of students come from disadvantaged backgrounds while administrators struggle to cobble together enough cash to even open doors, let alone provide a safe, rich and comprehensive educational experience.

Particularly noxious lawmakers are fond of spouting the ridiculous notion that money can’t help struggling schools, as if more and better-trained staff, better equipment and diverse programming wouldn’t make a difference in kids’ educations and their lives.

The timing of this meltdown is unfortunate, as if there were ever a good time for the euthanasia of public schooling. According to the 2010 census, Philadelphia grew in population for the first time in 60 years, changing direction from decades of decline. Most of that growth came from immigrants who will rely on public schools — or not, as the case may be. Another area of growth was in young families, who will face a choice, once they have school-age children, to stay in the city or flee to superior suburban schools as previous generations have done.

Nearly the entire burden to keep the district afloat has fallen to the city, which raised property taxes each of the two previous years specifically to funnel extra money that the schools weren’t getting from the state. This is in one of the poorest and most highly taxed cities in the nation.

The floundering district is both a symptom and cause of the city’s predicament, creating a vicious cycle of people who can afford to bail moving to the suburbs, leaving a crippled tax base, with the result being less money to fix the schools and ever-higher taxes imposed on those who stay.

Unlike the city, the state could come up with the necessary cash without excessively burdening its finances. Pennsylvania has the lowest severance tax of any state drilling for Marcellus shale gas, with plenty of room for an increase. The state had a modest surplus at the end of the last budget year. The governor has no trouble coming up with money to build new prisons, which will serve as future homes for all too many children of Philadelphia who are being failed and tossed aside by adult leadership, if you can call it that.

The pattern has become clear: defund the schools, precipitate a crisis and use that as an excuse to further attack the schools, pushing them closer and closer to a point of no return. The $50 million to open the schools this year is just the latest and most immediate example of three years of brinkmanship.

The district was hit with a double whammy in 2011, when stimulus funds that it had idiotically been using for operating expenses dried up, and incoming Gov. Tom Corbett took office eager to prove his reactionary bona fides by enacting massive budget cuts to public education to the tune of $1 billion statewide, disproportionately hitting Philadelphia. The result was an absurd $629 million shortfall, which was filled by a mix of cuts and city tax hikes.

Last year, the district took out a $300 million bond to patch another big deficit, the very definition of a band-aid fix as it only added to what is now $280 million in annual debt payments.

This round of budget hysteria kicked off in May when the superintendent announced that the district was another $304 million in the hole for the upcoming school year and requested extra funding from the city and state as well as givebacks from the teachers union to fill the gap.

To prepare, he laid off nearly 4,000 teachers and staff members, and closed 24 schools, after the district had shut eight the year before. Empty buildings and mass layoffs — the perfect image of 21st century education.

The city and state came up with a Rube Goldberg device of funding worth about $140 million, composed of repurposed federal funds, better city tax collections, borrowing against future city taxes and a whopping $2 million thrown in by the state beyond what it had already committed.

Most of even that inadequate amount hasn’t arrived yet as the state sits on $45 million in federal money it refuses to disperse until the teachers agree to enormous salary cuts and rollback of other benefits and city officials bicker among themselves on how to deliver the money they promised.

It’s still unclear what, if anything, will be kicked in by the teachers, who already make disproportionately less money than their suburban counterparts while teaching in much more challenging environments. Their contracts expire at the end of the month.

Leering over the whole mess is the controversial charter school movement, which siphons $675 million from district schools. The charter experiment has been a mixed bag, with some performing well, others proving mere vehicles for graft and corruption. Critics see them as a way to divert public money into politically connected private hands, and even more important, a way to break the teachers union because they aren’t bound by district collective bargaining rules.

It’s not hard to see the same forces at work here as those taking apart public sector unions in Wisconsin and trying to confiscate Detroit city employees’ pensions in Michigan. Indeed, the district leadership met Thursday to unilaterally suspend the school code to get around teacher seniority and automatic raise rules as they use the $50 million to rehire some of the employees laid off earlier this year.

Teachers are understandably displeased at being blamed for a problem the state has caused. “It is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s obligation to fully fund public education. Yet the budget office seems to be employing any and every means to avoid living up to this responsibility,” Philadelphia Teachers Federation president Jerry Jordan said in a statement. “Chronic lack of resources has brought this crisis to our schools, not work rule provisions in collective bargaining agreements.”

“The trunk of my car is now filled with a carton of paper, pens, lined paper, and copybooks I have bought for my students this September,” district teacher Christine MacArthur wrote in an editorial to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Now we are also to pay for the mistakes of our employers?”

Parents and students are trying to push back, but may ultimately have little traction. Thousands of students led by the Philadelphia Student Union walked out last spring to protest the doomsday budget, to no avail. Now, with the stark projections of May becoming reality in August, members are canvassing the streets to rally support. “I’m just doing it for my school because it’s the right thing to do,” one student told a local television station. “We are going to need counselors. Without counselors, it’s going to be hard to get into college.” The group is considering boycotting school entirely if the district doesn’t get the money it needs.

“It’s indescribably insane,” says Helen Gym of the advocacy group Parents United for Public Schools, who has three children in the public school system. “It’s unbelievable that it’s come to this.” The group put out a statement Thursday reemphasizing that $50 million was far from enough to have effective schools.

“I don’t send my child to go to a shell of a building, I send my child to get an education,” Gym says. “They can’t do that with $50 million.”

The district got its $50 million, though, and will get more in dribbles and drips. That will barely, not really, suffice for inadequate schooling this year. Next year, stay tuned for a repeat. Barring an unforeseen economic renaissance in the city or thorough overhaul of the state executive and legislative branches, the district is poised for year after year of one crisis after another.

Parents and teachers are all too aware of what’s happening. “Tom Corbett, the weakest governor in the United States, is trying to stake his claim on completely dismantling and starving one of the nation’s largest school districts into dysfunction and collapse,” says Gym.

The nails aren’t all in the coffin yet, but they are being pounded deeper every year by a state that has turned its back on, if is not openly hostile to, the idea of free and equitable education for all.

“It’s an absolute atrocious mockery of anything related to public leadership,” Gym says. “To not have a stable public school system is more devastating to Philadelphia than anything that has happened before.”

Aaron Kase is a freelance writer and a reporter for Lawyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at@Aaron_Kase.MORE AARON KASE.

Why Mitt Romney Is Unfit to Be President l Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. Author,”The Universe Bends Toward Justice”

 

Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D.

Author of The Universe Bends Toward Justice: the Bible, the Church and the Body Politic (Orbis, 2010)

Why Mitt Romney Is Unfit to Be President
Posted: 11/06/2012 10:12 am

Today is Election Day. In just a few hours we should know who will lead our nation for the next four years. So let me get right to the point: Mitt Romney is unfit to be president.

No qualifiers. Simply unfit.

Why? It’s not just because he has proven to be the biggest flip-flopper and the most dishonest major party presidential candidate in our lifetimes — and perhaps even in our parents’ lifetimes. It is something much more dangerous. Mitt Romney is unfit because he is a devout and bloodless financial technocrat and a dyed-in-the-wool economic elitist. That is to say that he embodies in one tortured soul 1) the social myopia and practiced insensitivity to human suffering that is typical of the dedicated corporate financial technocrat, even when he himself has caused the suffering; and 2) he also embodies the social Darwinist condescension of upper-class economic elitists toward those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. If Romney was simply one or the other (and had not been discredited as a shameless political liar) he might be a viable Oval Office occupant, for we’ve seen varying degrees of these characteristics there before. But Mitt Romney is something different. He embodies both technocratic and economic elitist sensibilities to an Olympian degree. That is a pairing with very dangerous implications for most Americans. Here is why.

Financial technocrats see the world through data. They make their decisions based on the numbers. Social issues are important to them only as they impact the bottom line. In their bloodless analyses there is no room for concern for the effects of their actions on the health and welfare of workers and their communities, for to them workers are merely pawns, faceless ciphers in their game of profit margins and corporate numbers. In fact, the most dedicated financial technocrats are fully blind to the needs and struggles of ordinary people. They don’t see folks who are elderly or sick or disabled or in need of assistance to feed their families. What technocrats see are financial liabilities, “entitlements” that must be paid — and cut out altogether whenever possible.

Mitt Romney is such a financial technocrat. For decades he crunched numbers and analyzed data in pursuit of maximum profitability for himself and his rarified clients and, like the typical technocrat that he is, counted workers as faceless ciphers. According to Romney’s Bain Capital colleagues, he never spoke to non-executive employees in the businesses he bought, sold and sometimes drove into bankruptcy; apparently, he never showed a whit of interest in whether his firm’s actions would benefit workers or devastate them. As Bart Gellman put it in TIME magazine, Romney was “matter of fact about business decisions that closed factories, crushed unions, outsourced services and threw employees of his companies out of work.”

The depth of Mitt’s technocratic mindset is reflected in his callously punitive budget proposal. It ends healthcare for 10 million Americans now covered by Obama’s Affordable Care Act, turns Medicaid into a voucher system that would burden already beleaguered seniors with thousands of dollars in additional out-of-pocket expenses, transforms Medicare into a block grant that would strip healthcare access from up to 28 million currently insured Americans, and removes more than 200,000 children from Head Start and 2 million mothers and children from programs that ensure them access to healthy food. (Conspicuously absent is the gutting of programs and entitlements that benefit America’s richest corporations and individuals.)

Yet Romney the technocrat does not see faces in the suffering his budget proposal would cause. He only sees numbers. That is why he can so easily reduce to an unproductive, faceless mass and a cold, hard number — 47 percent — the many Americans who rely on government aid: sick Americans, U.S. military veterans, elderly Americans, poor American children, proud American parents whose breadwinning has been reduced to unemployment checks. And what do technocrats do with unproductive assets? They discard them. That is what Romney’s policies promise to do: discard the programs and services that struggling Americans need most.

As for Romney’s upper class elitism, it is well attested. New Yorker magazine’s Nicholas Lemann put it this way: “Romney is a product of a series of interconnected, tightly enclosed worlds, with their own rules.” And from a former Romney aide: “[Mitt] is patrician. He just is. He has lived a charmed life … It is a big challenge that he has, connecting to folks who haven’t swum in the same rarified waters that he has.” David Brooks, a moderately conservative columnist at the New York Times, offers a more pointed assessment of Romney’s elitism. Of Mitt’s infamous “47 percent” rant he writes, “[I]t’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other.” He concludes that it “suggests that Romney does not know much about the culture of America.” Romney’s much derided attempt to make a $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a televised Republican primary election debate before a nation in which millions are struggling to make ends meet shows how little understanding and regard he has for the plight of ordinary Americans.

Romney’s 47 percent rant and his other derisive comments about the less well-off are reflective of real elitist contempt for ordinary Americans, for if those ugly indictments did not represent his true sentiments he could not have uttered them, even in error. Indeed, Romney holds the masses of the American people in such low regard that he has intentionally, repeatedly and shamelessly mislead and lied to them about any number of issues, refusing even to explain the true workings of his controversial — some have said ‘far-fetched’ — economic plans and their true consequences.

Thus the implications of the unfortunate coupling of elitist and technocratic sensibilities in Mitt Romney are as clear as day: from the first a Romney White House would not only have a built-in bias toward the richest Americans; conversely, as a matter of course it would doubly discount the interests of all those outside that fortunate few. Both tendencies are already evident in virtually every policy Romney has proposed. As for poor people, it’s almost as if Mitt sees them as a different species. Listening to his infamous pronouncement that “I’m not concerned about the poor; we have a safety net for them,” one would have thought he was speaking of nuisance pets, not human beings.

That is why Mitt Romney is unfit to be president: because his elitist policies and derisive statements demonstrate that he does not value the interests of all Americans in equal measure. A Romney presidency could well be the worst thing to happen to American workers in many years.

Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. is the author of ‘The Universe Bends Toward Justice: Radical Reflections on the Bible, the Church and the Body Politic’ (Orbis, 2011).

Follow Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@UniverseBends